Monday, November 21, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Arthur (1981) - Zingers Can Clue Into Something Deeper

[Quick Summary: A young drunkard must marry his "family approved" fiancee in order to keep his fortune, but then he falls in love with a poor actress.]

Awhile ago, my interest was piqued after reading this:
...whenever I begin writing a screenplay I always reread one of his. It’s called ARTHUR.
I went looking for any script by Steve Gordon, and/or an Arthur final script.

I found the former,* but couldn't find the latter...until now.

Arthur is the funniest, sharpest, cleverest comedy script that I've read in forever.

What sets it apart? The funniest lines aren't just jokes for a sound bite.  The zingers point to character stuff - pain, loss, humor, loneliness - i.e., clues to something deeper.

Below is our first introduction to Arthur.  Note the funny reactions of the minor characters (Bitterman and Girl) clue us in that something deeper stirs.

ex. "One of the girls approaches the car. In the front seat, the driver in full chauffeur's dress stares straight ahead.  This is BITTERMAN, a black man in his forties. The back seat of the limo has a bar, TV set, a refrigerator and almost every device known for mixing a drink. The girl is GLORIA.

GLORIA: What did you have in mind?

ARTHUR: VD! I'm really into penicillin! (he laughs) Now...that's funny!

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR:  I know this is last minute. (he laughs) Ahh ...I finally heard someone laughing. Oh...it was me. What I have in mind...is spending the evening with a stranger who loves me.

GLORIA: It's going to cost you a hundred dollars.

ARTHUR: Oh yeah ...what time do you get off work? (he laughs) I'm kidding. If you laugh a little I throw in nylons and Hershey bars. Let's make it two hundred. But I will ask you to Simonize my car.

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR: (looking at her staring) Tell me ...has there been a death in your family? This is funny stuff here.

GLORIA: Who are you?

ARTHUR: I'm rich. That's who I am. Get in the car.

[Gloria gets in.] Arthur pushes a button to talk to the driver.

ARTHUR: (to Bitterman) Bitterman, give her friend a hundred dollars. She came in second.

Bitterman gets out of the car. He approaches the other hooker and gives her a hundred dollars.

GIRL: (to Bitterman) Who is that guy?

BITTERMAN: I'd rather not say.

GIRL: I think I know. I've seen his picture in the paper. That's Arthur Bach...isn't it?

BITTERMAN: Uh...what if it is?

GIRL: Is there something wrong with him?

BITTERMAN: Yes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I read somewhere that Gordon packed "more jokes per page than anyone else."  Now I realize they're not just jokes, but clues pointing us to deeper character stuff.

Arthur (1981)
Written and directed by Steve Gordon

*I was lucky enough to see the special collection mentioned in that blog post.  It is phenomenal, and includes an early draft of Arthur, as well as scripts from The Practice (1976-77) with Danny Thomas.

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